In discussions about the existance of God, I've found Christians often use variations on an argument called 'Pascal's Wager' (see the Zaniak's review of chapter 2). This is an argument for the belief in God, famously made by the French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).
' Pascal argues that it is always a better "bet" to believe in God, because the expected value to be gained from believing in God is always greater than the expected value resulting from non-belief. '*
The basic argument is as follows:
If I believe in God and live as a good Christian then, if God exists, when I die I will go to Heaven.
If God doesn't exist then when I die I don't lose anything.
If I don't believe in God, and God exists, when I die I will go to Hell.
If I don't believe in God and God doesn't exist, then when I die I don't lose anything.
Therefore, Pascal reasoned that we may as well believe in God just in case he exists.
The trouble with Pascal's argument is that it rests on two assumptions. The first is that there are only two possibilities: either the Christian God exists, and rewards or punishes as stated in the Bible, or no god exists. The second is that belief in God costs nothing.
As I have discussed in earlier chapters, it is possible that another God, or Gods exist, so there may in fact be penalties for believing in the wrong God. It is also possible that the Christian God may exist but not behave as expected. Perhaps God doesn't actually punish non believers by sending them to Hell. For all we know, God may decide to reward non believers instead and punish believers.
'The wager cannot rule out the possibility that there is a God who instead rewards skepticism and punishes blind faith, or rewards honest reasoning and punishes feigned faith'.*
There is also the matter of the possible cost of belief. In many cultures, in many periods of history, people have been persecuted for their religious faith. Christians have been no exception- just look at Ancient Rome, or the Soviet Union. In such cases, belief definately has a cost to the believer- it can cost her her life. There are also costs for those of us living in more tolerant times and places.
'It is argued that there may be both direct costs (time, health, wealth) and opportunity costs. There may be opportunity costs for those who choose to believe: for example, scientific theories such as evolution that appear to some to contradict scripture could theoretically enable a non-believer to discover things and accomplish things the creationist could not. It is also argued that belief incurs a cost by not allowing the believing person to participate in and enjoy actions forbidden by dogma. This of course assumes that an unrestricted lifestyle is in someway preferred, and dismisses research suggesting there might be medical or socio-cultural benefits of belief and prayer.'
Christianity may require an individual to give up things which make them happy. For example, many Christians believe that in order to get to Heaven a homosexual must either change their sexual orientation (assuming this is even possible) or remain celebate for their entire lifetime. The inevitable resulting lonliness may be considered a great personal loss to the individual.
There is also the question of whether it is even possible to choose our beliefs. Even if I considered the 'wager' to be reasonable, and I accepted that it was wisest to believe in God, that in itself would not be enough to make me believe. I might *want* to believe, or act as though I do, because I agreed that according to the wager it was in my interest to do so, but that isn't the same thing. I'm not sure how it is for other people, but for me, belief isn't something I can turn on and off at will like a tap. I think that to rekindle my belief in God I'd need to see some physical proof of His existance.
I will probably add more chapters to this later, but for now I'm heading off to have some spaghetti bolognaise. With cheese. : )
www. wikipedia wiki/Pascal%27s_wager